Vast progress in reducing rubella, but 3 in 10 children still unprotected against the disease

Photo Credit: WHO

For the first time, more than half of all the world’s infants are protected against the debilitating rubella virus, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, more than 80 countries have eliminated the disease.

This progress has been achieved through broadening access to the safe and highly effective rubella vaccine – especially across lower-income countries. This vaccine has been shown to prevent more than 95% of rubella infections.

Challenges on the horizon
While there has been significant progress, 26 countries are yet to introduce the rubella vaccine, leaving 3 in 10 children globally without access. The greatest gaps persist in Africa, where roughly 6 in 10 countries are yet to make the vaccine routinely available to infants.

And even in countries that have the vaccine in their schedules, significant gaps in access and uptake can persist – potentially leaving large numbers of people still vulnerable to infections with the rubella virus.

“Stopping rubella for good means not only introducing the vaccine, but also building the strong immunization and healthcare systems that will ensure no child misses out on essential vaccinations,” says the head of WHO’s immunization programme, Dr Kate O’Brien. “It will take political and community leadership and commitment to ensure elimination targets are set, achieved, and sustained, so that rubella can become a disease of the past, in every part of the world.”

In the last WHO/CDC rubella elimination study, published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record with data for 2016, it was estimated that 47% infants were protected against rubella. In 2018, this figure stood at 69%.

Since 2000, with support from partnerships including the Measles & Rubella Initiative (comprised of WHO, UNICEF, CDC, American Red Cross and the United Nations Foundation) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, 69 more countries have made the rubella vaccine available to infants in their national immunization programmes – bringing the total to 168 of 194 WHO member states.

The full article with a link to the report can be found here on the WHO website.

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